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Baptists Have Highest Divorce Rate 1999

Comment 2020: divorce, job losses, and other social problems hit lower income in disproportionate numbers. Baptists tend to be a lot lower income people. Baptist likely has little to with it as such. L. Loflin

The Associated Press 12/30/99

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Baptists have the highest divorce rate of any Christian denomination, and are more likely to get a divorce than atheists and agnostics, according to a national survey.

The survey conducted by Barna Research Group in Ventura, Calif., found that 29 percent of all adult Baptists have been through a divorce. Among Christian groups, only those who attend non-denominational Protestant churches were more likely to be divorced, with a 34 percent divorce rate.

Alabama, with a population of 4.3 million, has more than one million Southern Baptists and a majority of evangelical Protestants. The state ranks fourth nationally in divorce rates, behind Nevada, Tennessee and Arkansas, according to U.S. government statistics.

Barna Research Group interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 continental states, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent. The survey found that while just 11 percent of the adult population is currently divorced, 25 percent of all adults have experienced at least one divorce, the survey showed.

Twenty seven percent of those describing themselves as born-again Christians are currently or have previously been divorced, compared to 24 percent among other adults.

"While it may be alarming to discover that born-again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time," said George Barna, president of Barna Research Group.

A Birmingham minister, the Rev. Stacy Pickering, said the numbers are skewed because Baptist churches encourage young people to get married -- sometimes before they're ready -- before living together.

"Fewer people are getting married and the number of couples living together has increased," said Pickering, minister of young married adults and director of counseling at Shades Mountain Baptist Church.

He said his church now requires premarital counseling for couples who want to marry at the church.

Of major Christian denominations, Catholics and Lutherans have the lowest divorce rate at 21 percent, according to Barna. People who attend mainstream Protestant churches have an overall divorce rate of 25 percent.

The levels vary among non-Christian groups, Barna reported. Jews have a divorce rate of 30 percent, while atheists and agnostics have a relatively low rate of 21 percent, according to the survey.

The survey found that Mormons, who emphasize strong families, are near the national average at 24 percent.

"What brings people to divorce has so many more important factors than theology," said Bart Grooms, pastoral counselor for the Samaritan Counseling Center of Baptist Health System. He said Christians' expectations of marriage may be too high.

"I believe we expect more out of marriage than we used to," he said. "Gender roles have changed an awful lot. A lot of women are not putting up with boorish louts like they were in the past."

The study found that the South and Midwest had 27-percent divorce rates, while the rates were 19 percent in the Northwest and 26 percent in the West.

Whites are more likely to have had a divorce, at 27 percent, than African-Americans (22 percent), Hispanics (20 percent) and Asians (8 percent), Barna found.

George Barna noted that the large number of divorces have changed young people.

"One of the most striking findings in our recent survey among teenagers is that when we asked them to name their top goals for the future, one of the highest-rated was to get married and have the same spouse for their entire life," he said.